I Say, I Say, I Say! A Few Words About Dialogue.

Posted on 18th April, 2015

Has anyone ever stopped you in the street to ask for directions? Of course. But has anyone asked for directions and then proceeded to bombard you with a detailed explanation of why they need to go there?


I thought not. Yet that's what the main character did in a novel I read. It wasn't a short explanation either - it was a substantial paragraph. It was uncomfortable to read because it felt unnatural. That set me thinking about dialogue, its purpose and its uses.


Here are my tips and ideas:


- People don't talk in long speeches. If they did, would you listen?



- Dialogue can help with the perennial "show, not tell" issue.


- If there is a piece of information or back story the reader needs to know, dialogue can be a good way to impart it - as long as the character who is speaking doesn't say something that is already known to the character they're talking to. The other day, I asked my brother, "Remember when we broke Mum's clown ornament?" I didn't say, "Remember when we were playing football up and down the stairs and the ball hit the clown ornament on the half-landing window-sill and knocked its head off, so we balanced the head back on and were quiet for the rest of the day?" I didn't need to say all that because my brother already knew it.


- Dialogue can add to characterisation. Choice of vocabulary can indicate personality or class.


- If you want to divulge a secret, making your characters have a row can reveal all kinds of things.


- If you want to know how good your dialogue sounds, read it out loud.


Do you have any tips to share?


(PS The next time Mum did the dusting, the clown's head fell off and she blamed herself for knocking it.)

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Comments (2)

Thanks for your comments, Jen. I agree with you about the importance of reading dialogue aloud. There's nothing worse than clunky dialogue.

Did Mum ever learn the truth? Goodness, no!
This post is a helpful reminder of a fundamental element of writing craft. I always read my dialogue out loud too. Something else that helps me is to consciously focus on different types of dialogue when I'm reading, and learn from what I thinks does and doesn't work.

Did your mum ever learn the truth about what really happened to her clown ornament?!